by Matt Nichter
Rolando Cruz spent a decade on Illinois’ death row for a crime he didn’t commit.
Now seven of the prosecutors and cops who sent him there – known collectively as the “DuPage Seven” – are themselves on trial.
Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were convicted for the 1983 kidnapping, rape and murder of young Jeanine Nicarico.
Both were eventually released when DNA testing proved them innocent – and showed that another man, Brian Dugan, who had confessed to the crime, was guilty.
Cruz’s wrongful conviction was based largely on a mysterious “vision statement” prosecutors contend Cruz made, in which he supposedly revealed facts about the Nicarico case that only the actual perpetrator could have known.
But somehow the police who claimed to witness the statement never managed to write it down, and Cruz has always denied making it.
Even when Dugan confessed – after Cruz’s first trial – police and prosecutors continued to push for Cruz’s conviction in a retrial. First, they attempted to hide the evidence of Dugan’s guilt. Then they concocted an impossible scenario in which Cruz and Hernandez were Dugan’s accomplices.
One officer in the DuPage County sheriff’s office resigned rather than participate in the frame-up. Assistant State’s Attorney General Mary Kenney also quit in disgust.
But that wasn’t enough to stop the wheels of “justice” from rolling right over Cruz, and he ended up on death row despite his innocence.
Unfortunately, the most powerful players in the conspiracy to wrongfully convict Rolando Cruz will go scot-free. DuPage County State’s Attorney J. Michael Fitzsimmons cynically indicted Cruz and Hernandez just two weeks before a bid for reelection. He lost, but convicting Cruz helped boost the profile of his successor Jim Ryan, who went on to become Illinois Attorney General.
It’s no wonder the biggest fish have managed to slip through the net. The special prosecutor for the conspiracy investigation is right-winger William Kunkle. Kunkle is the same lawyer who defended Jon Burge, the former Chicago Police Area 2 commander, who was fired for torturing suspects during interrogation.
The media has described the “DuPage Seven” trial as “unprecedented.”
In fact, prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption take place on a daily basis. Hundreds of aspiring politicians have made careers out of railroading minorities and the poor in order to look “tough on crime.” And the police are one of the most notoriously racist and corrupt institutions in society.
What’s unprecedented in the DuPage Seven case is that for once some of the crooked thugs who railroaded an innocent man are actually on trial for it.